Perhaps an asterisk, after the word “jobs”(*), should have been affixed.
You see, Tourism Minister and Sister Islands MLA Moses Kirkconnell was lauding the creation of new employment in connection with the new Cayman Airways Saab airplane and increased air service to and from the expanded Cayman Brac airport.
As we reported in Tuesday’s article, “Of the 21 new jobs, four are with the Brac fire service, five with the Cayman Airports Authority, three with District Administration and nine at the Cayman Airways reservation office.”
Those are, of course, all public sector entities. That’s where the asterisk comes in, as an acknowledgment that these are jobs created by government fiat, not by market demand.
We aren’t disparaging the actual work that the government jobs entail, and certainly not the workers who fill those positions. What we caution against, however, is perpetuating the illusion that government spending equates to real job creation.
As opposed to new hires in the private tourism sector, the 21 new government jobs on the Brac won’t add one farthing to local tax revenues. Because their salaries and benefits are drawn from the public purse, the 21 “additional” jobs actually constitute 21 individual acts of subtraction from taxpayers’ pockets.
Just as on Grand Cayman, the Brac’s tourism sector is limited primarily by the number of available hotel rooms. Minister Kirkconnell alluded to that, highlighting development at the Reef Resort on the Brac and the future Le Soleil d’Or resort — good news both — but not directly relevant here.
At best, improving and expanding air travel to the Brac could facilitate economic growth by removing impediments to tourists who want to travel to the Brac, but can’t currently find seats on a flight.
In his remarks, Minister Kirkconnell noted the airport “is the starting point … to trigger more jobs” (and apparently more Saabs; Cayman Airways is planning to buy a second new plane for the Brac). The assumption seems to be that empty airplane seats today might translate to future tourists tomorrow. That is a highly risky, and expensive, bet.
For the record, this winter Cayman Airways is scheduled to fly, on average, more than five flights a day to the Brac — about twice as many as it flies from Miami to Grand Cayman. In terms of air service, the Brac already appears to be well-serviced and well-saturated.
The same could be said about government jobs. Back in April 2013, then-candidate Kirkconnell said about 90 percent of employed people on the Brac work for government and draw their paychecks from the public payroll.
If true (or even close to true), that would suggest that our bigger “Sister Island” has practically no private sector economy whatsoever. It is totally dependent for its sustenance and, indeed, survival on the umbilical cord that connects it to the treasury of the Cayman Islands government.
Perhaps ironically, we applaud Minister Kirkconnell for looking out for the constituents he represents. We can’t recall a more effective elected member when it comes to delivering funds, goods, and services to his district. Twenty-one jobs are no small change.
Our concern, of course, is that none of this is sustainable and raises the difficult question of how long Grand Cayman taxpayers can afford, or will be willing, to subsidize its increasingly dependent “sister.”